Scouting DuPage County opening round playoff football games
Chicago Marist (6-3) at Naperville North (7-2)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: Marist No. 18; Naperville North No. 15 in the 32-team Class 8A bracket.
About the RedHawks: Marist might have three losses, but they are no joke. The RedHawks lost 33-31 to perennial power Glenbard West in Week 1 and then lost 42-7 to 9-0 Chicago Mt. Carmel and 28-17 to power Loyola Academy. Marist's schedule features seven teams that made the playoffs this season.
About the Huskies: "Marist is a great opponent and challenge for us," North coach Sean Drendel said. "They come from a great league and schedule. They are physical and athletic. We need to control the line of scrimmage and play our game. Just play our game of mixing it up on offense and defense. We have been locked in and have paid more attention to the little details. No stone has been unturned." The Huskies, one of four automatic playoff qualifiers out of the DuPage Valley Conference, have been bolstered offensively by their running back room of Danny Eloe, Nathan Jacobs and Cole Arl. Each has accounted for more than 500 yards from scrimmage this season. "Their buying in and teamwork have allowed them to stay healthy and strong throughout the year," Drendel said. Drendel added North's defensive line plays as many as 10 guys in a game in a rotation, but has been led by Jackson Bauer's big plays, Lawson Grier's constant pressure, Gavin Ericksen's steadiness and Justin Melgar's "relentless desire to be great at his job," Drendel added. "They have been a big part of a relative no-name defense that continues to get better." Marist was ranked No. 9 in the Week 9 Class 8A Associated Press poll.
Naperville Central (6-3) at Lyons Township (7-2)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: Naperville Central No. 19; Lyons Township No. 14 in the 32-team Class 8A bracket.
About the Redhawks: "Lyons Township is a great football team," Naperville Central coach Mike Ulreich said. "First of all, they do a great job playing complementary football. They play great defense and their offense plays a tough, physical brand of football and doesn't turn the ball over. Their best players play both sides of the ball. They really play a style of football we aspire to play each week. To win this game, we need to play with great pad level and be willing to match their physicality. And we cannot turn the ball over. We were really disappointed with our attention to detail a week ago (against Naperville North). We missed too many assignments and had bad eyes -- things that we need to get corrected to move on." Maverick Ohle has 25 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss and 4 hurries, while Ryan Spickermann has 50 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups and 1 interception. Jack LeCrone has 70 tackles, a pick and a forced fumble. "Our best players are playing on the defensive side of the ball," Ulreich said. Ulreich calls Daniel Nussbaum, who has filled in for the injured Charlie Eagan, an unsung hero. "Charlie is the heart and soul of our defense and really hard to replace," he said, "but Dan plays with great effort and great instincts."
About the Lions: Lyons has lost to only West Suburban Silver champion and undefeated York (9-0) and conference runner-up Glenbard West (28-20 loss). Lyons is in the playoffs for a second year in a row. Prior to last year, the Lions last made the playoffs in 2017.
Neuqua Valley (7-2) at Chicago Lane Tech (7-2)
When: Friday, 6 p.m.
Seeds: Neuqua Valley No. 17; Lane Tech No. 16 in the 32-team Class 8A bracket.
About the Wildcats: Neuqua went on a five-game winning streak at one point before losing 14-0 on the road to DuPage Valley foe DeKalb. Last week's 35-7 win over Metea Valley secured the DVC title for the Wildcats, who are 17-4 over the last two years and advanced to the state quarterfinals in 2021. Neuqua is in the playoffs for the ninth time since 2012, all under current coach Bill Ellinghaus.
About the Indians: Lane started the season 6-0 and then went 1-2 over the final three weeks with a loss to Phillips (5-4), a win against Westinghouse (5-4) and a loss to Chicago Public League Red-North champion Simeon (9-0).
Minooka (6-3) at Glenbard East (8-1)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: Minooka No. 23; Glenbard East No. 10 in the 32-team Class 8A bracket.
About the Indians: Minooka is one of four teams to qualify for the playoffs out of the Southwest Prairie Conference West Division along with conference-champion Plainfield North (9-0), Yorkville (8-1) and Oswego East (5-4). Minooka lost only 22-21 to Plainfield North, 7-0 to Yorkville and beat Oswego East 16-13. Its only other loss was a 49-12 setback in the season opener against 6-3 Bolingbrook. Plainfield North was ranked No. 8 in the Week 9 Class 8A Associated Press poll. "We know our opponent does a lot of things very well," Minooka coach Matt Harding said. "They are 8-1 for a reason. Their wide receivers do a good job of vertical routes, and they have a good running game with both the running back and the quarterback. Our team's success this year has been doing our 1/11th. Our conference has been the most balanced it has been with four teams making the playoffs this year. We have played some close games, so we understand to keep pressing when scores are close." Senior wide receiver-defensive back Connor Christensen has 5 interceptions and 38 tackles, while also catching 24 passes for 351 yards. Junior defensive back Efrein Ramirez has 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries. Junior running back Joey Partridge has run the ball 146 times for 758 yards and has scored 11 touchdowns.
About the Rams: The Upstate Eight Conference runners-up have earned the right to open the playoffs at home thanks to an 8-1 regular season. "Minooka is a great program," Rams coach John Walters said. "They are in the playoffs yearly. They are a big, physical team and well-coached. We will have our hands full." East continues to enjoy success on the defensive end. The Rams have surrendered a grand-total of 42 points in nine games. The next closest in that department in the UEC was conference-champion South Elgin at 110 (South Elgin scored 22 points against Glenbard East). The Rams have 5 shutouts to their credit and have allowed 8 or less points in eight of their nine contests. "Our defensive continues to be stout, led by our front seven," Walters said. "We are tough, athletic and physical." Troy Cooper and Delmario Taylor continue to make "huge plays and set the tone defensively," Walters said. "Our defense is really limiting opponents." Balance has been key on offense. "We are spreading the ball around and getting more players involved," Walters said. Matt Larson has 600 rushing yards since becoming the primary carrier. "Matt is quietly putting together a great second half at running back," Walters said. "He also returns punts." Yassin Nabil continues to be a difference-maker in the East passing attack. He has 400 yards and has caught a touchdown pass three weeks in a row. "Yassin continues to make big plays," Walters said. Walters said the continued development of Gus Winkler also cannot be overlooked. "Gus Winkler's development this season has been huge," he said. "He has helped make our front-seven that much better."
No. 28 Lockport (5-4) at No. 5 Glenbard West (8-1)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
About the Porters: The defending Class 8A state champions don't enter the postseason on the same solid footing they did a year ago. It has been something of a roller-coaster campaign for Lockport, primarily because of an astonishing number of injuries, particularly at the skill positions. Lockport is on its third quarterback at this time and has no healthy running backs who have amassed more than 100 yards rushing on the season. The one offensive constant has been TE Hyatt Timosciek, who has corralled 38 passes for 687 yards. The game is a rematch of a second-round playoff game last year in which Lockport beat Glenbard West 34-0 -- but this time the game will be played at Duchon Field in Glen Ellyn.
About the Hilltoppers: The Hilltoppers are making their 15th consecutive playoff appearance under head coach Chad Hetlet, having never missed the postseason in his tenure. Senior tackle Chris Terek, a 305-pound Wisconsin recruit, received an offer from Notre Dame last week. He anchors what has been touted as the biggest offensive line Hetlet has ever had. Junior Julius Ellens, who played primarily receiver in his first two years on varsity, emerged as Glenbard West's leading rusher this year when 2021 1,000-yard rusher Joey Pope was slowed by injuries in the first half of the season. Pope did have his best game of the season in Week 9, rushing for over 100 yards and a 76-yard TD and adding a pick-six defensively. Two-year starting QB Korey Tai pilots the offense that averaged 35 points through the first eight weeks. Senior RB/LB Jack Oberhofer is a physical two-way threat.
No. 31 Oswego East (5-4) at No. 2 York (9-0)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
About Oswego East: The Wolves are making their seventh consecutive playoff appearance under head coach Tyson LeBlanc, and will be looking for the program's first postseason win since 2016. Oswego East dropped three of its last four games, and struggled to generate offense in all three of those losses. The Wolves will need to reverse that trend against a tough York defense. Senior QB Tre Jones, a Navy recruit, has thrown for 578 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions through eight games, and is also the team's leading rusher with 792 yards rushing at an 8.8 yard per carry average with 10 TDs. Jones ran for a school record 253 yards and four TDs in a Week 8 win over rival Oswego that all but sealed a playoff bid. The Wolves received a big boost in that Week 8 game with the return of 244-pound running back Oshobi Odior, who missed six games with an ankle injury. LB Juny Almeida and DB Mike Polubinski are among the leaders of a fairly stout Wolves' defense.
About York: The Dukes, after making the playoffs for the first time in a decade in 2021, proved they were no one-hit wonder with a historic season. York won the West Suburban Silver championship outright for the first time since 2006 and posted the first perfect regular season in the 102-year history of the program. Senior Matt Vezza is one of the better dual-threat QBs around and pilots a balanced attack that features RB Kelly Watson and WRs Charlie Specht and Luke Mailander. LBs Cole Ostendorf and Evan Grazzini are among the leaders of a York defense that has allowed just 7.3 points per game, tied with Plainfield North for the fewest points allowed in the Class 8A bracket. Next on the to-do list? Collecting York's first playoff win since 2010. This is the second consecutive season the Dukes have drawn a Southwest Prairie West team in the first round, having lost to Minooka last year.
No. 26 Downers Grove South (6-3) at No. 7 Palatine (8-1)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
About Downers Grove South: Just like last season, the Mustangs started slow -- in this case, 0-3 against a brutal early-season schedule -- but won their last six games. Downers Grove South also captured the West Suburban Gold title for the first time since 2013. Mack O'Halloran, a third-year varsity starter, is a force on both sides of the ball. Deon Davis ran for 153 yards and a career-high four TDs in a Week 8 win that clinched at least a share of the Gold title. Senior QB Ryan Dawson is another third-year starter. Downers Grove South, making its third straight playoff appearance, will hope for its first postseason win since reaching the 2011 Class 8A quarterfinals.
About Palatine: The Pirates are champions of the Mid-Suburban West Conference. Palatine has won four consecutive games since its only loss, 43-42 to Glenbrook South in Week 5. Playing in a high-scoring league, the Pirates averaged 37.4 points per game and topped 40 points five times. The Pirates have overcome a season-ending injury to starting QB Grant Dersnah in Week 4. Jaylen Williams, a 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive lineman with offers from Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri, is one of the top sophomores in the state. Junior RB Dom Ball ran for 168 yards with TDs of 56 and 44 yards last week in a 30-7 win over Hoffman Estates that clinched the Mid-Suburban West.
No. 17 Downers Grove North (6-3) at No. 16 Lincoln Park (7-2)
When: Noon Saturday
About Downers Grove North: The Trojans are back in the playoffs for the second time under fifth-year head coach Joe Horeni after just missing out last season. Downers Grove North figures to be well-tested for the playoffs coming out of the West Suburban Silver. Six of the Trojans' nine regular-season opponents made the playoffs. The Trojans took unbeaten conference champ York to overtime. Wide receiver/defensive back Ethan Thulin, the team's top playmaker, and QB Sam Reichert, are among seven third-year starters. Defensive end Ben Bielawski is the anchor of a Trojans' defense that is the team's strong suit.
About Lincoln Park: The Lions went 6-1 to tie for first in the Chicago Public League -- Red West. Bulls Prep handed Lincoln Park its only loss on the field, 34-12 in Week 5. The Lions had to forfeit their Week 1 game due to a paperwork issue. Lincoln Park did not play a team outside of the Chicago Public League. This is Lincoln Park's first playoff appearance since 2017. The winner of this game will in all likelihood face Mount Carmel in the second round.
No. 27 Willowbrook (5-4) at No. 6 Wheaton North (8-1)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
About Willowbrook: The Warriors needed a Week 9 win over Morton to make its seventh consecutive playoff appearance. When Willowbrook gets to the postseason, it's done damage. The Warriors have reached the quarterfinals in their last five playoff appearances. That said, this is a very young team, with 12 sophomores on the roster playing roles. Junior QB AJ Palicki is in his third varsity season.
About Wheaton North: The defending Class 7A state champions graduated quite a bit from last year's group, but are back in after taking second in the DuKane Conference behind St. Charles North. A strong defense led by third-year LB and Holy Cross commit Ross Dansdill has allowed just 114 points. Tyler O'Connor is a playmaker running out of the wildcat or at defensive back. The Falcons have played quite a few close games in the DuKane, so should be well-prepared for the postseason. This is a rematch of a 2021 quarterfinal won by Wheaton North at Willowbrook.
Nazareth Academy (5-4) at Glenbard South (7-2)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: Nazareth No. 11; Glenbard South No. 6 in the top half of the Class 5A bracket.
About the Roadrunners: Naz competes in the Green Division of the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference and has wins over Kankakee, Carmel, Chicago Leo, Montini and Benet Academy. "Glenbard South has a very explosive offense with Division I talent," Roadrunners coach Tim Racki said. "We must be able to contain big plays. Defensively, their backfield is physical, very fast and athletic. Their front seven is bigger than us as well. Being able to sustain drives and keep their offense off the field is key. Our growth and development from week to week has been impressive despite the four losses. This is a very resilient, hard-working group of young men." Naz is paced by senior defensive back-wide receiver-running back Justin Taylor, a Wisconsin commit, senior two-way lineman Will Beargie, a Princeton commit, and senior defensive back-wide receiver-punter Zach Hayes. Taylor has 31 catches for 412 yards and 4 touchdowns, while Hayes has 31 catches for 431 yards and 3 touchdowns and also has landed 11 of his 25 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. James Penley leads the receiving ranks with 32 catches for 433 yards and 2 touchdowns. Alexander Angulo, a sophomore, has run for 377 yards and 6 touchdowns. Quarterback Logan Malachuk has passed for 1,775 yards and 10 touchdowns. Gabe Kaminski has 10 sacks and 21 tackles for loss, while Brady Gorman has 4 sacks and 6 tackles for loss.
About the Raiders: Glenbard South started out 5-0 and finished 2-2, losing to Upstate Eight Conference-champion South Elgin (49-27) and to UEC runner-up and 8-1 Glenbard East by a single point (7-6). The Raiders are 16-4 over the last two years and are looking to advance to the second round of the playoffs for a second year in a row and fifth time since 2013.
Providence Catholic (5-4) at Wheaton Academy (8-1)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Seeds: Providence No. 13; Wheaton Academy No. 4 in the top half of the Class 4A bracket.
About the Celtics: Providence plays in the Orange Division of the Chicago Catholic League-East Suburban Catholic Conference and has wins over St. John (Indiana), Fenwick, Marian Central, Montini and St. Laurence. Losses have come to squads with records of 8-1 (Wheaton North, 28-0), 7-2 (Joliet Catholic, 49-41), 8-1 (Loyola Academy, 34-22) and 7-2 (St. Rita, 26-16).
About the Warriors: "I am stating the obvious here. Three of Providence's four losses have come to teams in the Top 25 in the state at any level and were all competitive games," Wheaton Academy coach Jim Johanik said. "The fourth loss came from last year's Class 4A state champ. Show me another 5-4 football team anywhere in the state with this level of capability. Without success factors, 4A football is no different than 5-8A. It's just that the better teams are more distributed throughout the middle classes in the last few years. We have speed and skill and will have to play near flawless football to beat this team. We hung right there with IC until we gave up the big play. If we can prevent the big run and pass, it'll be a ballgame, for sure." Johanik likes how his team has evolved on both sides of the ball. "We play tough, sound defense and spread the ball offensively," he said. "I love the style of football we play. The improvement hasn't just been seen within the year, but the last few years. I suppose when more than 10 winning programs turn you down when you ask them to schedule weeks 1 and 2 next year, it says something. Frankly that's a first for us." Quarterback Belay Brummel is over 1,850 yards passing and has 28 touchdowns, while completing more than 60% of his throws. "He's clearly one of the best quarterbacks in the state." Wide receiver Breck Peacock has 770 receiving yards. "Belay has a lot of targets, but his favorite receiver is Breck," Johanik noted. Junior strongside linebacker Brett Dieter is the team's leading tackler with 58 and has 7 tackles for loss and 2 picks. Sophomore middle linebacker Brandon Kiebles has 43 tackles. "The future is bright for us defensively with these two guys," Johanik pointed out. Johanik said offensive line play has been a back-pocket hidden gem this season. "We lack size, but we get off the ball," he explained. "These guys move well laterally and open up the zone read for our talented running backs. Every time I am concerned they are not going to hold their own against the bigger teams, I come away surprised. Belay's success in the pocket has a lot to do with the line's ability to give him time."
Marengo (5-4) at St. Francis (8-1)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: Marengo No. 14; St. Francis No. 3 in top part of Class 4A bracket.
About the Indians: Marengo plays in the Kishwaukee River/Interstate Eight Blue Division with the likes of Richmond-Burton, Rochelle, Johnsburg, Plano and Harvard. The Indians have lost to 8-1 Wilmington (32-26), 48-21 to 9-0 Richmond, 48-27 to 7-2 Rochelle and 44-3 to 6-3 Kaneland -- all teams with winning records.
About the Spartans: Coach Bob McMillen's squad, whose only loss is to 3A power IC Catholic Prep, says opponent doesn't necessarily matter once Week 10 matters because, "it's the playoffs," he said. "Now, everyone is good. We have to stop making mistakes and being undisciplined." McMillen likes how the Spartans' defense has evolved. "I think our defense is playing really well," he said. "They have been flying around and making plays. I thought they did a great job against a very good IC team last week." Linebacker Danny French is second on the team in sacks with six. Quarterback Alessio Milivojevic has thrown for 1,309 yards and 20 touchdowns against 2 picks. He's completed 74% of his passes. Another backfield stud is running back Brady Piper, who has run for 487 yards and 6 touchdowns and has 6 catches for 79 yards and 2 more scores. Linebacker Dom Beres and defensive lineman Jaylen Torres are two additional notables. "Dom is the definition of a football player," McMillen said. "This kid is always prepared, tough as nails, strong, smart and instinctive. He understands what it means to be a defensive player. Jaylen is only a freshman, but has continued to understand how to use his leverage and be a huge part of our defensive line." Wide receiver-defensive back Connor Shields is a different player over the last half of the season. "He's a kid who has taken his game to the next level over the last four or five weeks," McMillen said. "Connor is a huge factor on both sides of the ball and is making big plays when needed."
Chicago King (5-4) at IC Catholic Prep (8-1)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: Chicago King No. 13; IC Catholic Prep No. 4; Top half of Class 3A bracket.
About the Jaguars: King College Prep plays out of the Chicago Public League Red-South-Central Conference where it was one of five teams there to make the playoffs. King started 3-1 and went 2-3 over the final five games of the regular season.
About the Knights: "King's running back is strong and will be a challenge for us to tackle in the open field," IC Catholic Prep assistant coach Thomas Gibbons said. "Their speed on the outside will also be a challenge for us. To have success, we need to play our best football to this point in the year. It's a one-week season. No one is guaranteed to be on the practice field Monday." Gibbons said team chemistry continues to be huge for the Knights. "Our players are getting closer as a group through our team events away from the facility," he said. "The brotherhood at IC is special and we make sure as coaches it's a staple in everything we do. In addition, our attention to detail is improved. We know the stakes are high. Playoff time brings a different level of energy and our kids feel it." Wide receiver-free safety KJ Parker has caught 26 passes for 828 yards and 13 touchdowns, while running back-wide receiver-corner Denzell Gibson has run the ball 53 times for 581 yards and 10 touchdowns. Quarterback Dennis Mandala has completed 95 of 136 passes for 1,982 yards and 27 touchdowns against 1 interception (148.9 QB rating). Strong safety Joey Gillata is in his first year as a varsity starter. "Joey has made some huge plays in the passing game, especially last week against St. Francis," Gibbons said. "And his ability to tackle in the open field aids in our run defense." Linebacker JP Schmidt continues to be on one of the defensive leaders. "JP always puts himself in a great position to make plays," Gibbons said. "And others feed off his energy and determination." And Kaleb Ellis has made a difference all over the field, Gibbons added. "It seems whenever a big play needs to happen, Kaleb steps us and delivers, he said. "He comes to the field every day ready to get better. He's a big part of our success in all three phases of the game."
Lisle (5-4) at Byron (8-1)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: Lisle No. 11; Byron No. 6 in the top half of the Class 3A bracket.
About the Lions: Lisle comes into this game on a two-game winning streak and winners of three of its final four regular-season games. The Lions have a 1-4 record against teams with winning records this season. Lisle is in the playoffs for the fifth time since 2015, fresh off a second-round advancement in 2021.
About the Tigers: Byron won its final eight games after dropping a 15-7 decision to Stillman Valley in the season-opener. Both teams finished 8-1 in Big Northern Conference play. The Tigers, of course, are the defending Class 3A state champions. "We have played Lisle several times in the playoffs," Byron coach Jeff Boyer said. "We are aware that they are a very good program that is well-coached. We have to contain their run game and not allow (Chris) Farrell (6-5, 280, offensive lineman committed to Kent State) to take over up front. He is a very good player. We have improved every week. Our kids learned a lot in Week 1 and have continued to get better each day." Seniors Brayden Smith (quarterback), James Cone (middle linebacker) and Jake Kann (offensive and defensive lines) lead the way for Byron.